Publicis Groupe Executive Kevin Roberts Resigns After Gender Comments Spark Controversy

Publicis Groupe Executive Kevin Roberts Resigns After Gender Comments
Courtesy of Publicis Group

Kevin Roberts, the prominent ad-industry executive, has elected to resign from his posts at France’s Publicis Groupe in the wake of comments he made about gender diversity in the ad industry that sparked controversy on Madison Avenue.

Publicis Groupe, which operates agencies like Leo Burnett and Publicis Media, said Roberts had elected to step down from his role September 1 as executive chairman of the company’s large Saatchi & Saatchi unit as well as a role as “head coach” at the corporation. His retirement date had been set for May, 2017.

In remarks made last week to the online publication Business Insider. Roberts said he felt debate about gender equality is “over,  and indicated he spends little time considering the problem. He also suggested that many ad companies fail by forcing on female employees a definition of success that means they must take on senior managerial roles. “Rather than holding ambitions to progress into the higher echelons of the c-suite, many women — and men — simply want to be happy and do great work, which management can often overlook,” he said.

Publicis Groupe placed him on leave over the weekend after executives at big advertisers and at rival agencies took to social media to express offense.

The advertising industry has been on edge over the issue of gender discrimination since the March filing of a lawsuit by Erin Johnson, a longtime public-relations executive at WPP’s large JWT unit that alleged an “unending stream of racist and sexist comments as well as unwanted touching and other unlawful conduct” by Gustavo Martinez, then the agency’s CEO. Martinez would step down from his post just a few days later, but the lawsuit continues to make its way through the courts. WPP said his departure was “in the best interest of the J. Walter Thompson company,” a reference to the agency’s formal name

Roberts, a Madison Avenue veteran who has clocked time in senior marketing roles at PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, was contrite in a statement issued Wednesday. ‘”I failed exceptionally fast. My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry,” he said, suggesting he was following a maxim of good advertising and marketing: “‘Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast.”